See and Hear: Performers From the Court of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Musicians and dancers from the court of Hamengkubuwono X

Earlier this month, Asia Society played host to Hamengkubuwono X, Sultan of Yogyakarta and Governor of the Yogyakarta Special Region, and his court. The centerpiece of the sultan's visit was a performance by court dancers and musicians, including members of the royal family. The program included traditional Javanese dances such as golek menak and wayang wong, two styles that are inspired by the country's puppet theater, and bedhaya, a courtly dance style with deep symbolic and spiritual meaning. Scroll through to see some of our favorite photos from this very special evening, and watch videos of the performances. For more information about the dances performed at Asia Society, read the program notes here.

The evening began with performances of golek menak and wayang wong. Golek menak is a contemporary example of the influence of puppet theater on other Javanese arts, including dance. Originally a three-day spectacle that took place in the court of Yogyakarta, wayang wong was a ritual affirmation of the power of the court. 

Golek menak performance
Golek menak performances draw inspiration from the rich tradition of Indonesian puppet theater. (Ellen Wallop/Asia Society)
Wayang wong performance
A "mask dance fragment'' (wayang wong) whose story exemplifies the prestige of the court. (Ellen Wallop/Asia Society)
Wayang wong performance
This wayang wong or "mask dance fragment" told the story of love triumphing over evil. (Ellen Wallop/Asia Society)

The program continued with bedhaya, the sacred classical Javanese court dance. Performed by nine identical female dancers, they were once the sole prerogative of the royal court. The dance is laden with symbolism and can be interpreted on multiple levels. The use of nine dancers is said by some to represent the nine human desires or the nine openings of the body. The first formation represents the human being, with two leading characters embodying the conflict between flesh and spirit. The second section of the dance has the performers representing perfect unity, where all have attained one.

Bedhaya performance
Bedhaya dancers are traditionally selected from relatives of the sultan and belong to the innermost circles of the court. (Ellen Wallop/Asia Society)
Bedhaya performance
Bedhaya was only allowed to leave the confines of the courts in the beginning of the 20th century. (Ellen Wallop/Asia Society)
Bedhaya performance
Sumptuous textiles and accessories are part of bedhaya's courtly tradition. (Ellen Wallop/Asia Society)

Musicians and dancers from the court of Yogyakarta
Dancers and musicians from the court of Yogyakarta and the Gamelan Kusuma Laras ensemble. (Ellen Wallop/Asia Society)
Sultan Hamengkubuwono X
Earlier in the day, Sultan Hamengbukuwono X appeared in conversation with Asia Society Vice President of Global Arts and Culture Initiatives Rachel Cooper. (Ellen Wallop/Asia Society)
Sultan Hamengkubuwono X and Asia Society President Josette Sheeran
At a reception honoring the sultan, Asia Society President and CEO Josette Sheeran presents Hamengkubuwono X with a welcome gift. (Ellen Wallop/Asia Society)

To find out more about the dances performed at Asia Society and the sultanate of Yogyakarta, download the program notes here.